Rush Limbaugh: An even more coarse and contemptible lout than I thought

The most depressing aspect of Limbaugh’s latest comments about the intellectually disabled is not what he said, but the fact that many otherwise good people in the conservative movement continue to identify with him. The man is a jackass and a lout. Conservatives should call him out. Their silence is deafening.

A few talented Americans—Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover come to mind—retain the ability to surprise and repel even after you suspect that every awful fact about them is publicly known. Rush Limbaugh deserves mention within that distinguished group.

Limbaugh has made a career out of offering thinly-veiled attacks on racial and religious minorities, women, LGBT people, and many others. I suppose I should not be surprised that he adds the intellectually disabled to the list of people and groups he regularly insults. When he says, “There’s Going to Be a Retard Summit at the White House,” it is not the first time he has disparaged the idea that people don’t care to be called derogatory names that carry insulting connotations.

There is still something striking in his tone-deafness towards this specific group of Americans living with serious cognitive disabilities who have endured so much mistreatment and stereotyping, and whose advancement has been strongly supported by tens of millions of good people across the political spectrum in both political parties.

Perhaps the most novel element is watching Sarah Palin trying to explain away her transparent partisan hypocrisy in distinguishing her mild criticism of Limbaugh’s scripted comment to millions of people from her over-the-top attacks on Rahm Emanuel based on a far less offensive (though inappropriate) hyperbolic comment about political colleagues made in private. Palin is not alone in this hypocrisy.

The most depressing aspect of this story is not Limbaugh’s latest specific verbal outrage, but the fact that so many otherwise good people continue to identify with him among the general public and among conservatives in Washington. The man (along with Glenn Beck and others in the right-wing talk radio circuit) is a jackass and a lout. He deserves to be called out, not by some liberal University of Chicago professor, but by fellow conservatives. This isn’t news, but the silence is deafening.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect,, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

12 thoughts on “Rush Limbaugh: An even more coarse and contemptible lout than I thought”

  1. Don't be depressed. I don't know where you got the idea that "so many otherwise good people continue to identify with" Limbaugh, but it's just not true. No decent human being identifies with Mr. Limbaugh. So, rest easy.

    Why. you ask? Because I say so. You didn't provide any evidence for your assertion either.

  2. The sad commentary by Rush Limbaugh is and always has been politically motivated. He'll turn complaints of his use of the term “There’s Going to Be a Retard Summit at the White House,” into "you see, if I say it the left screams about how terrible that comment is". But Rahm Emanuel used the term and it's ok he's on the left so it's O.K. Nothing Mr. Limbaugh says or uses is without purpose, he is nothing more than a pimp for conservative Republicans. If Rush Limbaugh can attack our President before he was sworn into office shows just how true my comments are. Why would any true American wish his President to fail before he evan took office? No matter how he spins it,it was obvious this was Limbaugh's motivation, nothing more.

    As for Sarah Palin, she has about as much credibility as Rush Limbaugh. I have yet to hear a conservative mention that the fact that she took as solom oath of office to be The Govenor of Alaska, an oath that ended with "So help me God". Then walked away from the position, using the term "going rogue". Going for the money is more like it with book signing tours all over the world, along with very high priced speaking engagements. Yet walking away from an oath of office, is never mentioned, just $100,000.00 speaking fee, at the "Tea Party" convention. If you were a member of this group tired of over spending and big government, wouldn't you balk at such an expensive charge for a speaker? Not to mention someone who walked away from an Oath of Office, to pursue big bucks as an author and speaker. Now tell me who or what is driving this group, their own values are compromised by the keynote speaker at their own convention.

  3. No doubt "identify with" is wrong; people who identify with Rush are, by that fact alone, undeniably hateful and destructive. But Rush is an insider, is acceptable to people like Brian Williams in a way that Michael Savage isn't. And there really isn't any difference between Limbaugh and Savage.

  4. This is just a bizarre post. When he says, “There’s Going to Be a Retard Summit at the White House,” he's essentially quoting Rahm. Which is offensive, sure, but the idea that when Rahm said the same thing it was "far less offensive." I'm not sure how you come to that conclusion–it's clear, at least, that Limbaugh is making fun of Rahm as much as anyone, which I'd think would make his statement less, not more, offensive. I think it's pretty easy to get to equally offensive; that's my take on it.

    Palin's statement called Limbaugh's statement "crude and demeaning" and "disrespectful." True, that's relatively mild compared to how she treated Rahm. But her hypocrisy doesn't compare to Pollack's. She doesn't try to excuse Limbaugh, which is better than Pollack does with Rahm.

  5. I don't know. I mean, he's being "politically incorrect". It's a term (PC) I loathe, not least because of its ineffability (where do we draw the line, n***er? Why there?). But because ironically it is so often used as a cudgel against legitimate appeals to compassion and/or tolerance. Yes, son, there are things you shouldn't say. It isn't a matter of free speech. It's a matter of respect. You could just as easily express your thoughts in a more appropriate manner.

    But at the same time there is a danger in going the other direction. One risks missing out on a certain ribald good-naturedness that only exists in this gray zone between oughts and ought-nots. Here, intent is paramount and context essential. There definitely is something "retarded" about certain behavior that has nothing to do with poking fun at mental retardation, and everything to do with attempting to depict a truth.

    I once got in trouble with a friend who he argued that Obama not to be allowed to speak to public school students (yeah, remember that? ). I said I thought his idea was retarded. Maybe if his son was retarded I wouldn't have said it. Maybe I should have chosen my words more carefully. But was there a better word? As a literal interpretation, you could make a pretty strong case that the idea was indeed philosophically and politically retarded. It was socially retarded. It was dumb. It was idiotic. It was ignorant and insane.

    Words have meaning. But that meaning is often dependent upon context. When I read Rush's transcript I related to his sentiment. I'm fine with us all agreeing that the term is too offensive to use. I try not to say "Hell" around Christians. Good for Sarah Palin if she wants Ramn to shut his Damned mouth. Maybe all of us who sometimes blithely step over the line are being a bit too boorish. But we can discuss these things reasonably. We can recognize the decency in one another while at the same time attempting to see the truth they attempt to reveal.

  6. So what you're saying is that Limbaugh was acting really Trig right? Or maybe that if Palin doesn't condemn him she will be acting really Trig right?

  7. ***Just to note: The "retards" Rahm referred to, and to whom Rush then piled on, were not the "looney left", but rather the actual conservatives of the democratic party. Kind of "retarded" of Rush not to be able to recognize Rahm's point. But what is new…

  8. All three, Nixon, Hoover, and Limbaugh are Capricorns, a sign of hard, mean, ruthless politicians. Add Jeff Sessions, George Tenet, and Paul Wolfowitz to the list, as well.

  9. Remember, the GOP politicians are acting on the assumption that pure 'f*ck you' opposition will pay off politically.

    Rush is under fewer moral restraints. If the majority of Americans are put off by him, he can still have an extremely profitable audience.

  10. They're Capricorns! That explains it! Of course! Why didn't I see that in the first place! Capricorns. What are you gonna do? Those darn Capricorns! They're ruining the world. We should abort all future Capricorns before they become Capricorns, right Rawguy?

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